London: A Social History "Thy Soul Was Like A Star, And Dwelt Apart"

Roy Porter

"Thy Soul Was Like A Star, And Dwelt Apart"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This poem, also known as "National Independence and Liberty," is one of Wordsworth's best sonnets, a full union of harmonious sound and dignified meaning. Addressed to Milton, who was not only a master of the sounds of poetry but also a stanch defender of personal freedom, the sonnet laments the changes that threatened to end the happiness and liberty of the English people. During the French Revolution, the British government became highly repressive from fear that the radical ideas would cross the Channel and explode into a revolution at home; thus the ministry started censorship and abandoned some of the basic rights of Englishmen. In the seventeenth century there was a similar repression, and the calm and humble voice of Milton had cried out for the restoration of rights. In the early nineteenth century there seemed to Wordsworth to be no leader who could assume such responsibility. In this quotation Wordsworth both praises Milton and hopes to raise another great spokesman to put an end to the stagnation that seems to be choking English life.

We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.